December 1, 2019 Advent 1

December 1, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Advent 1 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Isaiah 2:1-5

 

We will never have peace if we cannot imagine what peace looks like.

If we cannot believe peace will come than peace will not come, because peace has not yet been imagined.

We need to be able to articulate—to tell others—what we think peace looks like. If we can imagine what peace looks like, we can take steps that lead toward what it is we see.

Just so, in the 2nd chapter of the book of Isaiah, the writer of the book imagines the house of God. The writer imagines a house high on a mountain where God reigns, where God lives as a teacher.

Imagine this:

People streaming toward the house of God—a pilgrimage of people.

As the people journeyed toward God’s house on a hill, they said:

“Come let us go to the house of God.” (Isaiah 2:3)

Or was it a chant? Or was it a song? Or was it a spoken hope?

“Come let us go to the house of God, that God may teach us God’s ways…” (Isaiah 2:3).

I don’t often imagine God as a teacher. We might imagine God as an old person. We might imagine God as a warrior. We might imagine God as Creator. We might imagine God as a judge. But as a teacher?

In this reading God sounds like a professor of Ethics, God sounds like someone who is teaching the people who come to God’s house how they ought to live. Specifically, God is teaching them God’s ways to live…

And then, the writer says the people said, or they chanted, or they sang:

“Come let us go to the house of God so that we may walk on God’s paths…” (Isaiah 2:3).

The writer of the verses is saying: God will teach us. (Isaiah 2:4).

The writer concludes that the people journeying to the house of God, after learning from God, beat “their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4).

Nation stopped lifting their sword against nation. They learned war no more (Isaiah 2:4).

Their vision of peace: an agrarian society. Farming.

This is what peace looks like, the writer writes. This is what peace looks like.

How do we imagine peace looks?

We cannot have peace if we cannot imagine what peace looks like. If we can imagine what peace looks like, we can take steps that lead toward what it is we see.

James Douglass began the first chapter of his book The Non-Violent Cross (Macmillan Publishing 1966) with these words:

To see reality in our time is to see the world as crucifixion. To see reality is to cut through the blindness of self… To see reality is to be wholly present at the crucifixion of the world; to live reality is to enter into that crucifixion, but to do so, in the phrase of Albert Camus, as neither victim nor executioner. The life of living is a suffering with the world, yet not as a passive victim but  suffering in resistance and in love, experiencing the darkness of crucifixion without surrendering the hope and strength and revolution of resurrection (p. 3).

As Christians, if we want peace to take its place in the reality of our time, we need to root our image of peace in both the crucifixion of Jesus and in his resurrection.

As we say, or chant, or sing our hopes for peace, as we say, or chant, or sing

“Come let us go to the house of God, that God may teach us God’s ways…”

we must listen, we must turn our hopes for peace into a call and response dialog with God.

We call out to God, longing for peace.

God reminds us, God brought Jesus to the world to be our Prince of Peace.

We call out to God, begging for an end to violence and war and suffering; God responds, telling us that in all suffering there is hope. With every death there is resurrection.

God’s responses are not intended to placate us; God’s words are not intended to ignore the pain of the sufferings we see and we experience and we know—

God’s responses are intended to remind us of what peace looks like, so we can begin to imagine peace. Then we can take steps that lead toward what it is we see.

We don’t have to imagine suffering and death, those things surround us.

Our Advent call is to imagine resurrection—to imagine new life.

We imagine new life now, in these moments we are given.

We imagine new life that is eternal, life with God where there is only peace, where there is only love, now and forever.

Amen.

November 24, 2019 (Christ the King Sunday)

November 24, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Christ the King 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 23:33-43

This morning we go to “a place called the Skull” (“Calling Forth the Kingdom” by Paul D. Duke in Christian Century November 8, 1995 p. 1043).

This morning we go to a place, to a time when evil and love converge, they intersect where two beams intersect on the cross of Jesus Christ (ibid Duke).

Today is Christ the King Sunday. The theme for Christ the King Sunday is the same, year after year. Every year we examine even as we celebrate the sovereignty of Jesus. The place called the Skull was ground zero. The Skull is where Jesus Christ’s reign found its shape and then changed the world forever.

Usually when we talk about kings we are talking about men who had or who have political power. Jesus, our king, was powerless. He hung on a cross, his hands and feet impaled (ibid Duke).

Usually kings had or have a domain, a land they rule over. Jesus, suspended on the cross in mid-air, couldn’t touch the ground beneath him (ibid Duke).

Usually kings or queens had or have subjects—people they rule over. In this story the man declared “king of the Jews” was being tortured and mocked by almost all of the people who surrounded him (ibid Duke).

Usually, kings had or have the opportunity to speak to their subjects with a voice of authority. For most of our story this morning, Jesus hung silent, mute, saying nothing to anyone (ibid Duke).

In democratic societies, leaders are elected by the people. In this story, there had been an election but in that informal vote the people were deciding whether or not to free Jesus from his captivity. And he lost the vote (ibid Duke).

In our story this morning it is clear, the word “king” hanging over the head of Jesus and being said by those near him—the word was a joke. It was a punchline for some kind of sick political cartoon (ibid Duke). Here’s Jesus! “King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38).

Literally, the emperor had no clothing.

Those gathered representing the empire; those gathered representing religious authorities—they all thought Jesus was a fraud.

Their ridicule was evil. All things considered, in that moment it appeared evil had won its own victory over good.

Then there was a voice. The voice of a criminal. Did everyone hear him speak or was it only Jesus? What we know is that Jesus heard the criminal’s words:

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

We know Jesus heard the words. Luke tells us Jesus heard the criminal’s words and finally, finally Jesus spoke:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Christ the King lavishly granted forgiveness and peace on a criminal in his promise: Today you will be with me in paradise.

 Let’s be clear. Evil did not go away in that moment. But goodness stole the crown. Goodness turned their mockery into an eternal promise. Today you will be with me in paradise.

 Last Sunday we sang the words:

Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate…

And we sang that the

Victory is ours, victory is ours, through God who loves us. (ELW Hymn #721).

 

The victory is ours, because God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus (John 3:16).

What does this mean?

Let’s look at the origins of Christ the King Sunday for our answer.

In the 1920’s Pope Pious XI declared the last Sunday in October as the feast day of Christ the King. (“The feast of Christ the King” on www.aquinasandmore.com). Oddly, that was also the day Protestants celebrated the Reformation. During the Second Vatican Council the festival of Christ the King was moved to the last day of the Church year to avoid the irony of the two feast days being celebrated at the same time. (“The Not so Ancient Origins of Christ the King” on www.lutheranforum.com).

The intentions of the day of Christ the King were more than a little political. Church leaders wanted to focus the attention of Christians on the sovereignty of Jesus Christ rather than on the rule of political leaders and dictators.

Our needs are no different today.

With Jesus Christ as our Sovereign leader, goodness can and will conquer the evils of the world. Love is stronger than hate.

Our call is to focus our lives on that radical call to love. Even in the midst of our sufferings. Even as we witness and experience the sufferings of and in the world.

Jesus has always been quite clear. Love is stronger than hate.

So, on this Christ the King Sunday we remember and we proclaim:

Victory is ours, victory is ours, through God who loves us. (Repeat together).

Amen.

 

 

 

Sunday, November 17, 2019 – Pentecost 23

November 17, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Pentecost 23 2019

Malachi 4:1-2a

Our Savior’s La Crosse

This past week I did something I’ve never done before: I read the entire book of Malachi. All fifty-five verses.

The book of Malachi is from a collection of books in the Old Testament commonly known as the Twelve Prophets. Malachi is the last of the twelve. In addition, the book of Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. For that reason Tertullian called the book of Malachi “the skirt and boundary of Christianity” (as quoted in “The Book of Malachi” “Introduction” in The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 7, p. 843). Where the Old Testament ends the New Testament begins…

We have 1.5 verses from the book of Malachi as our first reading.

The best parts of the book are left out.

For example, if we were to finish reading verse 2 instead of just reading half of the verse, our reading would be:   See the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all   evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you that revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

And then, in 2:3 it is written that the Lord said

I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence.

Malachi claimed the Lord was angry with some of the priests who had gotten lazy in their work. Rather than making animal sacrifices of the best animals from the herd, priests were sacrificing sickly beasts, or beasts that were lame or blind. Malachi believed this was an offense to God, hence the “dung” of those sickly animals would be used as a punishment against the priests, spread on their faces.

The best verse from the book is found in 2:17, where the people ask Malachi

“Where is the God of justice?”

 The question is haunting. Where is the God of justice?

The book of Malachi is believed to have been written after the Babylonian exile, during the period known as “the period of the Persian Empire” approximately 539-450 BC (ibid p. 847). The prophet Zechariah (whose book comes right before Malachi’s in the Old Testament) called this time “the day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10).

Malachi, then, was asking “where is the God of justice?” during the day of small things.

The question is haunting. Zechariah’s description of the time is intriguing. What do their thoughts mean for us?

I don’t think we would say that we live in the day of small things. Especially with our use of social media, everything in our day to day lives seems not just big but “HUGE!”

I make a pretty meal, a meal that looks delicious, before I take a bite I take a photo and splash it onto my Facebook page. Because my meal is that important…

I’m sitting home watching tv and I notice both dogs sitting on the bench, looking out the front window. Quick! Take a photo! Our dogs are so CUTE! Look everybody! Look at our dogs! As I post the photo on Facebook and Instagram…

What if we focused ourselves, our lives, on the small things? Would we find the God of Justice there? Because I’m not necessarily finding the God of Justice in the HUGE! things happening in the world that seem to be demanding all of my attention…

I took this photo when Jeanne and I were on vacation on the U.P. this past September. It was a rainy day and I was walking on the beach.

Can we find the God of Justice here, in this little leaf?

I think I can.

Lake Superior is 7 inches higher this year than it was last. Many of the beaches on the Keweenaw Peninsula are under water. If I look out our back windows at home I see the same thing happening to the Mississippi River. We’ve had an abundance of rain and snow—temperatures have been extreme highs and lows, much of which is explained by global warning.

The God of Justice entrusted us with this world, calling on us to be stewards of creation. The God of Justice calls us to look around and see what is happening and to act.

I took this photo when I was camping at Bethel Horizons over Labor Day weekend.

I was there for the camp’s 50th anniversary. This is a photo of a wildflower called Goat’s Beard. The flower has gone to seed. It lives in a field of wildflowers intentionally planted and cared for by the camp’s Naturalist.

When I see Goat’s Beard growing I think of the camp and its commitment to serving at risk children from Dane County and Milwaukee. Children come to camp on “camperships.” I see the God of Justice in their young faces as they learn about life in a safe environment, where the worst threat to them is the ticks that are there in abundance.

If we make every day a day of small things, we won’t have to wait until the end of time to know God’s justice. God is calling us forward now—calling us into each and every moment. All we need to do is stop. And look. And listen.

And then we need to figure out what we can do to bring God’s justice to the world.

Amen.

Stewardship Sunday 2019

November 10, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Stewardship Sermon

November 10, 2019

Psalm 121:2

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

 This verse is the foundation of what we believe about God.

Sunday after Sunday, in the Apostles’ Creed we say: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

In Luther’s Small Catechism, on this petition of the Creed, Luther wrote: What does this mean? I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul…

After explaining in detail the details of God’s provision and protection of each of us, Luther wrote: For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey…

 Why do we “owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey?”

Because God, “the sovereign ruler of the cosmos has a personal concern for the lives of God’s people” (“Psalm 121:1-8 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4, p. 1181).

Our gifts to God are part of our response to God for all God has done for us. Our gifts to God are literally, a return gift, in-kind. God has given us our very lives. “God has given… and still preserves [our] bodies and [our] souls.” In return, we thank God with our financial gifts. We thank God with our gifts of time. We thank God with our gifts of talent—all given to God in God’s name.

Hopefully, we give joyfully.

We give to God in so many different ways besides the obvious.

When folks think about stewardship, the clearest implication is that we are “stewarding” our money: we are caring for our money as best we can by directing a portion of it to the Church. It is a given that this congregation needs our financial gifts. We need financial support to have a pastor and to have a staff and to engage in the ministries we engage in and to serve the needs we serve.

Hence, this morning, we make financial pledges to the church for next year, bringing our pledge cards forward during the offering.

I’d like to encourage an additional way to think about what it is we offer.

You have all already made an offering this morning. Your first offering has already been given.

When you got out of bed this morning and you decided to come to church instead of staying home, you made an offering.

If you are worshiping with us from home, or while on the road, or while staying with family or friends, you have already made your first offering.

Getting out of bed on a cold early winter’s day is an offering. There are only two people here who have to be here: me, and Trevor. We have to be here if we want to get paid! It is our job to get out of bed. It isn’t anybody else’s. You all made a choice to join us in worship, here physically or by using technology. That is a gift. You have given and are giving God the first hours of your day.

Your gift is not taken for granted.

Let’s add another layer to your giving. You are giving this time to God; this is also a gift of time to yourself and to your relationship with God. Adding a third layer, this gift of time is a gift to yourself and this community of faith. Your presence strengthens us and offers you the opportunity to be strengthened.

When I’m ready for worship, I have a habit of standing in the church office doorway, watching people arrive and walk into the sanctuary. Waiting and watching isn’t just an opportunity for me to say hi to people. Waiting and watching is an opportunity for me to watch an offering procession. Just as our ushers process up the aisle to hand our acolytes our offerings—you all process through the hallway, offering yourselves.

You’re getting out of bed; you’re getting dressed and getting in your car and driving to church; you’re hopping on your bike to ride here; you’re moving through your house or your camper to find your computer and your returning it on; you’re driving to a coffee shop with your laptop and finding our worship service—these are all movements that, when combined become an offering of self that is just as vital as the passing of an offering plate.

Think about this on a global level. Think of all the people who process to church somewhere, at some time. Think of people walking sidewalks to worship in huge cathedrals, people walking paths through forests or jungles to gather in open worship spaces, people gathering in chapels in nursing homes, people praying in or beside hospital beds—

All of this is self-giving. We are gifting God with ourselves and our time, thankful for all God has given us.

All of this is given because we know, because we trust that “our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

I look to the hills, from where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

He who keeps you will not slumber.

He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;

The Lord is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

Nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;

He will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in

From this time on and forever more.

Quoting Luther:

For all of this we owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey. Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2019 – All Saints Sunday

November 3, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

All Saints 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 6:20-31

Yesterday I began my devotion for the Style Show with a quote from one of my favorite books of Meditation. The book is a collection of writings by Dorothy Day. During the Great Depression Dorothy Day and a couple of her colleagues founded the Catholic Worker, a monthly newspaper. They established St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality about the same time—an establishment that provided meals and a place to sleep for folks needing assistance. St. Joseph’s was the first of many such houses of hospitality throughout the United States, including here in La Crosse where we have our own Place of Grace.

Anyway—the quote I read was this:

“…it is only in the duties of the moment that we are able to see and find Christ.”

(Meditations by Dorothy Day p. 3)

It is only in the duties of the moment.

Examining the “duties of the moment” requires us to understand what a “duty” is.

In the land of ethics, a “duty” is a moral obligation. A duty is something we are obliged to do just because we ARE—just because we exist. All humans have moral obligations… moral duties. The problem with knowing what those moral obligations are is that nobody knows for sure. Our understandings of moral duties depend on who we are and what we believe.

As Christians, our moral obligations are clear. We are to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. And Jesus was clear. When asked, he said the greatest commandment was to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 2:37-39).

Following Jesus means then, that our moral obligation, our DUTY is to love God and neighbor.

When we love God and we love neighbor, we are able to see and find Christ.

In our reading from Ephesians this is put another way. St. Paul wrote:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe… (1:17- 19).

The glorious inheritance among the saints that we receive is the gift of our baptism: the gift of God’s graceful love that embraces us and forgives us, leading us (with all the saints) to life on earth and in heaven with God.

Tuesday afternoon a young man stopped our office, asking to speak to me. He told me that he had come to La Crosse with a friend, just for fun. He said the friend’s car broke down, and in the process of getting the car fixed or getting a ride home—the friend “ditched him.” So this young man found another friend who let him stay in the friend’s van while he found a way to get home. Home is in MN.

The young man spent a week and a half looking for a way to get home. For a week and a half he slept in a van, trying to find a way home. Finally, people at the Place of Grace told him to come here.

We were able to buy him a ticket to get a ride on a shuttle, to a place in MN where his mom would pick him up. He hadn’t eaten all day so the Come for Supper people made him a sandwich. Lois bought him a pop. He kept saying “You people are so helpful…”

My question is, why did it take a week and a half for him to find someone to help him?

He told me people kept telling him to go to different places, but that no one could help… better put, no one would help him… As he told me that he just shook his head, baffled.

Folks, it is our moral obligation as Christians to love God, and to love our neighbors. Our moral obligation is to help those who are most vulnerable… like a young man stranded in town with no way home. We don’t do these things because we have to do them to get to heaven, we do these things because it is what Jesus taught us to do.

“…it is only in the duties of the moment that we are able to see and find Christ.”

I read a second quote yesterday, during my devotion. This one was from words written by Dorothy Day, herself:

 Our lives are made up of little miracles every day. That splendid globe of sun, one street wide, framed at the foot of [the] street in early morning mists, that greeted me on my way … to Mass…was a miracle… I was  reminded of a little song [my daughter] composed at the age of two:“I’ll sing a song…of sunshine on a little house and the sunshine is a present  on the little house.” Sunshine… is indeed a present. We get presents, lots of  them…” (MDD, p. 18).

The greatest present we shall ever receive is the gift of Jesus and his love for us. The greatest gift we can ever give is the gift of Jesus and his love for us. We give Jesus and his love in “the duties of the moment.”

It is my prayer that we see and find Christ in all that we say and in all that we do.

Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2019 – Pentecost 19

October 20, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Pentecost 19 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus said “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people” (Luke 18:2).

I’ve been reading comments amongst people (some who are clergy) on both Facebook and Twitter this past week, folks trying to explain what it means to fear God. Some folks approach the subject in a childlike way, suggesting we ought to fear God because God has ultimate power OVER us and can condemn us to an eternity in Hell for no reason at all, just because God is God. They reject this fear, some rejecting this God. Which is understandable. Who wants to believe in a God only of wrath and condemnation?

A quick search of the web pointed me in another direction. A Lutheran Pastor from North Carolina wrote in our Living Lutheran magazine a few years ago (“Fear and Love,” Tim Brown, November 2, 2016) about his understanding of what it means to “fear and love” God:

My adult self will tell you that fearing God is like [as theologian Rob Bell once noted,] sitting on a    surfboard just offshore and finding a huge whale surfacing beneath you. The immensity of the event causes awe and respect and, yes, a certain fear as you are lifted. Whales are gentle but still wild, and in the vastness of the sea, encountering such a giant can’t but leave you breathless. And you love it.

And he wrote:

fearing God is like listening to the quiet after a large snowfall. Everything has changed and there is immense power in that. And yet, everything is more beautiful— even if it’s all just a little more complex. And you love it.

And he wrote:

fearing and loving God has less to do with cowering in a corner and more to do with being drawn to your knees in awe of something so impossibly giant you’re amazed it chooses goodness for you and not something else.

Just so—we are called to fear and love God. But the judge in our parable, he did not. He “neither feared God nor had respect for people” (Luke 18:2).

In the first chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses instructed judges in how to behave. He wrote:

Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s (Deuteronomy 1:16-17).

So, as one commentator put it, “The Judge’s responsibility… was to declare God’s judgment and establish shalom” (“Commentary” Luke 18:1-8 The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 336).

A judge who “neither feared God nor had respect for people” could hardly “establish shalom.” Until he was confronted by a “persistent widow.”

To understand the significance of the widow we have to understand the place of widows in first century ancient Israel, as well as the place of widows in scripture.

Widows were powerless back then. When their husbands died widows were left with nothing. The husbands’ brothers were charged with marrying the widows in order they might be provided for. But there was no guarantee. If the widows were not provided for by the husbands’ families—they had nothing. They were left to go to their local judge to beg for justice.

Scripture is full of reminders that God cared for widows and demanded that God’s followers do the same:

[God] will not ignore… the widow when she pours out her complaint (Sirach 35:17).

God will vindicate the widows (Numbers 22:22).

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God… is this: to care for orphans and widows in their   distress” (James 1:27).

In our parable a persistent widow “keeps bothering” an unjust judge, leading the unjust judge to grant her justice.

God is our Just Judge. Jesus told us that God, our “just judge” will “grant justice to [God’s] chosen ones who cry to [God] day and night” (Luke 18:7).

Prayer is our cry. Prayer is a tricky thing. When I was doing my first hospital chaplaincy years ago, I recall hiding in little chaplains’ offices, avoiding having to visit patients. I was afraid to pray for patients because I knew prayers aren’t always answered the way we want them to be.

When we make our prayers about us and our needs, we have to know we won’t always get what we ask for.

This story makes clear, if in our lives we face injustice and oppression, we must be persistent in our demands, praying for justice and freedom. But, if we are not facing injustice and oppression, our prayerful attention ought to be on those who are, rather than on ourselves. Likewise, if we are not hungry our prayer ought not be for food for ourselves; we ought to pray that God gives others this day their daily bread.

As one commentator wrote:

To those who are worn out, hard pressed, and lacking in hope, Jesus says to pray night and day… To those who have it in their power to relieve the distress of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger but do not, the call to pray night and day is a command to let the priorities of God’s compassion reorder the priorities of their lives.” (“Reflections” Luke 18:1-8 The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 339).

May the priorities of God’s compassion guide our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

 

Sunday, October 13, 2019 – Pentecost 18

October 13, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Pentecost 18 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 17:11-19

 

“Your faith has made you well.”

(Luke 17:19)

Jesus spoke the words to an unknown Samaritan leper.

“Your faith has made you well.”

The Samaritan was in a liminal place.

“Liminal.”

According to bing.com the word “liminal” is an adjective describing when one occupies “a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.”

I got the idea of using this term from a pastor who wrote a commentary on today’s parable that was published in the Christian Century (September 25, 2019 p. 19).

The pastor wrote:

“Jesus meets people in this liminal space of the border. Ten men approach    and ask him to have mercy on them. They are lepers seeking healing, at the     border between clean and unclean. They don’t want to be on the unclean           side—they want, they need, to be healed. They are tired of being separated      from families and friends. Then Jesus shows up…”

I grew up in a town outside of Rockford, IL, just south of the Illinois/Wisconsin border. My mom’s younger brother and his family lived about 25 minutes north of us, just across the border on the WI side. I remember going to visit them and riding bikes on the county road, crossing back and forth over the state border. Back and forth. In WI. In IL. In WI. In IL. In WI…

Borders seem arbitrary. And yet they wield so much power.

Living in the first century as Jesus did, the boundary between clean and unclean was legal as well as religious. There were “laws of uncleanness” (“Clean and Unclean” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible” volume 1 p. 644). Apparently,

“The appearance of swellings, eruptions, and raw sores on a formerly clear skin has an uncanny quality, which to the ancient mind indicated the work             of evil powers or divine judgment on sin. The horrible effects of leprosy…   heightened the impression of mysterious forces at work…and brought them       into the realm of the unclean… which lasted until a cure was obtained or        the sufferer died” (ibid).

The ten lepers in this morning’s story lived in that liminal place, at the border between clean and unclean, waiting, hoping, longing for a cure.

Then Jesus showed up.

Note: all ten lepers were healed.

Note: only one was “made well” (Luke 17:19).

His faith made him well.

This man, formerly a leper now healed, knew God had acted in his healing. This man, formerly a leper now healed, knew God had worked through Jesus. This man, a Samaritan thus a foreigner, knew God had delivered him through Jesus. This man, formerly a leper now healed, a Samaritan thus a foreigner, threw himself on the ground on his face at Jesus’ feet giving thanks.

Where is your liminal place?

Where do you find yourself standing—on the threshold of something new or walking away from something old, or something painful, or something other you need to leave behind?

As you stand on that edge, on that border, in that doorway—do you find yourself hoping? Regretting? Excited? Afraid?

Remember, you aren’t alone.

God stands with you.

Your faith will make you well. Or it will make you brave. Or it will make you confident. Or it will bring you comfort.

We lost a friend this week, a sister in Christ who not only worked for us in the Clothes Closet, but was confirmed here at Our Savior’s years ago, and became a member here again a year and a half ago. Dawn Kinard, raised as Dawn Severson, died last Sunday.

I loved working with Dawn. She wasn’t the strongest person physically; she was frail. But her heart was huge. As Betty Linse said, Dawn had a hug and a kiss [on the cheek] for every woman who walked in the Clothes Closet.

As I described the work Dawn did for us in the Clothes Closet, I told one person that Dawn was Jesus for us. She was there with women who were homeless, offering them strength and hope. She was there for a woman who is living her life liminally, one foot in recovery from addiction, one foot back on the streets. She was there for a woman born in Nigeria, now living here in La Crosse. Dawn was Jesus in their lives, giving them love and hope and a shoulder to lean on. As I spoke to one of our clients, who was broken-hearted by the news of Dawn’s death, I promised her that we will love her as much as Dawn loved her. I intend to keep that promise.

Our theme verse for our Stewardship campaign this year is our first reading: our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Our help comes from the Lord—but it shows itself in the ways we live, one with another. As we stand on the threshold of our future as a congregation, our call is to be Jesus—our call is to touch others, to bring healing and hope, to love others as God has loved us.

May it be so.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, October 6, 2019 – Pentecost 17

October 6, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Pentecost 17 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Luke 17:5-10

 

If I asked you which parable from the gospels is your favorite (if you have a favorite), I’m fairly confident most people would not name the Parable of the Worthless Servant (which is the name of the parable we have as our gospel text).

For a few reasons, this parable is a rotten little story…

First, we cannot avoid the slave imagery that is used. Some translations of the story substitute the word “servant” for slave. They may be trying to avoid the reality of the reading; there were slaves in the first century just as there were in 18th and 19th century nations just as there are now. Our American history is stained by an economy that was dependent on slave labor. Our history as a nation bleeds into current economic and social structures that continue to create haves and have nots, some of which is dependent on race and culture. These are subjects that make people uncomfortable. We never want our collective sins to be “aired” so publically.

Second, who wants to think of God as a slave driver? As a master? The imagery is grotesque. Particularly because that makes all of us who follow God slaves. Likening discipleship to slavery is sickening.

Third, if we accept the imagery of slave and master, the conclusion of the argument is: the disciples (that’s us) get no reward for their labor. Even if the “slave” (and again, that is us) does everything the slave has been asked to do—the slave is still “worthless” (Luke 17:10).

How do you visualize your relationship with God?

Do you imagine yourself as a much loved child held in the arms of a loving parent? Do you imagine yourself working all day and all night in servitude to God, giving all of yourself and all of your time and all of your talent, with no reward?

Here’s a visualization of the text as provided by one scholar:

The parable assumes the hearer’s familiarity with the customs that controlled the lives of slaves in the first century. Like many of Jesus’ parables in Luke this one begins with the question “Who among you…? And expects a negative answer, “No one; it would be unthinkable.” The parable assumes a small farmer who has one slave who does both the field work and the household chores. The master would never say to the slave, “Come here at once and take your place at the table.” Instead, the [slave] would be expected to start preparing the master’s evening meal immediately after coming in from the fields. Only after he had served the master could the [slave] tend to his own needs. The master would not even thank the servant for doing what was commanded. (“Luke 17:1-10 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible volume 9, p. 323).

This parable is making a significant point about God and about us as God’s disciples—an unpleasant point—God does not and will not reward our faithful discipleship. That makes for a great sermon, I say sarcastically.

But this is a sound, theological message. As the same scholar previously cited wrote: God owes us nothing for living good, Christian lives. God’s favor and blessing are matters of grace—they cannot be earned” (ibid Luke 17…).

There is good news in this.The good news is: we don’t ever have to earn God’s grace. God’s grace is a gift. God loves us. God forgives us. God frees us from any need to earn those things. God’s love is a gift.

A second piece of good news is this: if we do what we do for God, as disciples, because we think we HAVE TO in order to receive God’s love and grace, we can LET GO of thinking we HAVE TO. We don’t. There is no obligation. There is no reward.

So why be disciples? Why work on behalf of God? Why do things here at church or out in the neighborhood or in the world in the name of God?

The answer is two-fold.

First, because we want to. As God’s faithful children we want to love others. This is our way of saying thank you to God for all God gives us. Someone gives you twenty dollars you say “thank you.” God has given us God’s love. God has given us forgiveness of our sins. God promises to give us eternal life. Of course we say “thank you” in any way we can.

Second, because God asks us to. God asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves. God asks us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. God asks us to care for refugees and share our wealth. God asks us to sing songs of praise. God asks us to pray.

Our acts of discipleship are for God—not for us.

Our acts of discipleship are expressions of thanksgiving, freely given to God, for God, from grateful hearts. This is a blessing: that we are free to choose how we might respond to all God gives us, all God provides for us, all God offers us.

Thanks be to God always for this freedom and this love.

Sunday, September 29, 2019 – Affirmation of Baptism

September 29, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Confirmation 2019

Philippians 4:4-7

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-5)

The Affirmation of Baptism, also known as confirmation, is a rite of passage in the Lutheran tradition. If you ask any of our elders who grew up in the Lutheran church, they will most likely have stories to tell about their confirmation experiences. Stories of being tested by the Pastor in front of the entire congregation. Stories of having to “know your stuff” because the pastor wasn’t going to take it easy on them. Earlier in my ministry, I heard memory after memory from older adults of back when they were confirmation students and had to memorize the catechism in Norwegian or in German or in Finnish—depending on what community I was pastoring.

I have two distinct memories of my own confirmation experience.

  1. In front of my entire 30-some member class, I asked my confirmation teacher to explain circumcision.
  2. The day I affirmed my baptism, I was convinced I did not deserve to be there, nor did I deserve to receive communion. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe, it was that I didn’t believe myself worthy. At the time I didn’t realize my thoughts were deeply rooted in Lutheran faith and belief. I didn’t realize my thoughts echoed the writings of Philip Melanchthon, who wrote in the Augsburg Confession, Article 2, on Original Sin:            course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all [people]     are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and            Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and             again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.
  3.             condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born
  4.             are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.
  5.             Since the fall of Adam all [people] who are born according to the

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-5)

There are two messages here, and they seem contradictory. The first is of God’s wrath, God’s condemnation of sinners; the second is finding joy in our faith.

What reconciles these two messages is the gift of Jesus.

Jesus, given to the world by the God who loves the world in order to free the world from sin and death.

Jesus, our salvation.

Jesus, who is near.

Jesus, in whom we rejoice.

A professor from Cambridge wrote that when we consider rejoicing in Jesus, we aren’t thinking about a transient emotional experience, we are thinking about “a deep and lasting joy that comes through a deepening relationship with Christ; this joy is thus expressed in sharing his love and concern for others.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume 11, p. 546) The same professor asked a question: “If many Christians today lack such joy, is this perhaps because they see their faith to a great extent as an individual matter, and so do not see Christian life in terms of mutual respect and concern or experience the love and support of fellow Christians?” (source above).

I hope that isn’t the case here, at Our Savior’s. I hope we understand and experience the deep joy that comes through a deepening relationship with Jesus found in a community of believers who share his love and concern for others.

I think it is in knowing the deep joy found in Jesus that makes the day a young person affirms his faith so important to all of us. Because we know, we know deep in our hearts that the love of Jesus is real—and we want the person who is saying yes to his baptism, who is saying yes to the promises of Jesus in his life—we want him to feel our joy even as we take joy in his faith. We want him to know his own joy in Jesus. That is our hope.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-5)

Jesus is as close to us as the wine and bread we share. Jesus is here, in this meal. Jesus is here when we hear his words: “Take and eat; this is my body, given for you…” Jesus is here when we remember he said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin…”

Jesus is here for our brother Jackson. Jesus is here for his family. Jesus is here for all of us.

Jesus forgives us. Jesus loves us. Jesus frees us. Our relationship with Jesus lives in us as a community of believers.

We receive his love.

We share his love with others.

We believe in him.

And so we Rejoice in the Lord always.

And we pray for our brother Jackson:

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2019 – Pentecost 14

September 15, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Pentecost 14 2019

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Exodus 32:7-14

Luke 15:1-10

 

Moses was with God for forty days and nights.

Moses was with God forty days and forty nights, on the top of a mountain, in deep conversation.

Forty days and forty nights; Moses had a mountain top experience. While there, God gave Moses two tablets with God’s commandments etched on them, taking the time to describe each commandment to Moses in detail.

For forty days and forty nights there was only Moses and God, God and Moses. Those days and nights were (literally) sacred.

And then God saw what the people had done, the people left at the bottom of the mountain. Moses had left them there, alone for forty days and forty nights. The people did not know what had become of him (Exodus 32:1). The people begged Moses’ brother, Aaron saying “Come, make gods for us” (Exodus 32:1). Which Aaron did, melting their gold rings into the image of a calf. And he said to them “tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord” (Exodus 32:5). Early the next day the people rose and they offered burnt offerings and they made sacrifices to the golden calf (Exodus 32:6).

God saw what the people did.

God said to Moses, whom God loved and trusted:

“Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely…” (Exodus 32:7).

The God who told Moses to go down to the land of Egypt to free the Israelites…

The God who so loved the Israelites, that God caused plagues to visit the land of the Pharaohs…

The God who killed Egypt’s first born, both people and animals…

The God who told Moses to tell the Pharaoh to “let my people go”…

This God, our God said to Moses:

“Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely…”

They were no longer “my people” they were yours. They no longer belonged to God, they belonged to Moses.

 

God was angry.

God’s wrath was burning hot against the Israelites. God wanted to consume them. God wanted to start over, just God and Moses. God wanted to form a new nation.

God was angry because the people “acted perversely” (Exodus 32:7).

The people, who had been God’s people, had made their own god.

God seemed distant to them. God seemed far away. The Israelites needed something, anything. They made their own god.

Moses dared to speak to God, reminding God that the Israelites were God’s people. Moses reminded God that God had brought them out of Egypt; Moses reminded God that God had freed them from slavery; that God had saved them…

Moses implored God to change God’s mind. Moses said to God

“Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people” (Exodus 32:12).

Moses reminded God of a promise God made, saying

Remember Abraham, remember Isaac, remember Israel, your servants; remember how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’ (Exodus 32:13).

 

And then, only then did God change God’s mind.

 

We are wayward people. We join the generations of people who create our own gods. We create gods believing our gods to be more accessible. We create gods believing our gods to be more understandable. We create gods believing our gods to be closer to who we are and what we need.

We worship what we long to have and we worship what we possess. We turn from God toward other things, toward other acts, toward other people, we turn toward other others…

That is the definition of sin—those things, those beliefs, those temptations that turn us away from God. Those temptations we embrace.

We are a wayward people.

We are lost sheep.

We are like the coin that a woman lost.

The good news is: Jesus came looking for us.

The good news is: Jesus came to this world for us, for our salvation, freeing us from sin by sacrificing himself. Our sacrificial lamb saved us and saves us.

Each and every day we are freed from the burden of our own waywardness.

Because God loves us, God sent Jesus to this world to save us from our sin.

We are found people. We are free people. We are God’s beloved children.

 

And so we sing “Go down, Moses way down in Egypt land” knowing our lives are our Egypt. Our lives bind us. We need to be freed! We need to be freed again and again and again.

Freed from the sin that lives in us.

Freed from all those things and those thoughts that bind us.

We need to be found and freed by Jesus.

We are found and freed by Jesus.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Next Page »